Orchard Yong Tau Fu, Cuppage Plaza

There are pockets of (relatively) cheap and hawker-level good stalls littered across Orchard Road. A safe bet is to check out those drab-looking, depressingly dated shopping malls. Yes, those ones that look dodgy AF. Because the rents are comparatively cheaper at these old malls than at the brand-spanking-new ones, the food in these malls is consequently cheaper, and generally of a higher standard. Just look at the treasure trove of eateries tucked away at 2 of Singapore's most mature malls, Far East Plaza and Lucky Plaza.

Orchard Yong Tau Fu, or Cuppage Yong Tau Foo as it's more commonly known, is one such hidden gem. It's a hole-in-the-wall in the aged Cuppage Plaza, a cramped and tiny shop space with limited seating. It's a full-house most parts of the day, but turnover is fast so you won't have to wait very long for seats to be freed up. Be sure to go by mid-afternoon though, because they start running out of stuff, and sell out by late-afternoon, even if the opening hours stipulate a 6.30pm closing time.

Orchard Yong Tau Fu is popular for several reasons; the ingredients are mind-mindbogglingly varied and sparkling fresh, and the clear broth is rich in depth but not cloyingly so, nor does it reek of MSG. Both tenets of what makes for a superb and comforting bowl of yong tau foo.

My humongous bowl laden with choy sum, fishball, fried fishcake, meatball, prawn paste fried beancurd skin, enoki mushrooms, luncheon meat, clear vermicelli, and half a hard-boiled salted egg ($7).The sambal, purportedly a proprietary blend, made for a robust and punchy fodder to the myriad of ingredients.

The Hubs' bowl was largely similar, save for the exclusion of glass noodles and stuffed beancurd skin, and inclusion of seafood balls and plain fried beancurd skin ($7).

The stall facade. It's right behind all the other stalls.

Orchard Yong Tau Fu
Cuppage Plaza #01-09
5 Koek Road
Tel: 9067 5245
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 8am to 6.30pm;
Closed on Sundays


101 Dining Lounge & Bar, One & Only The Palm, Dubai

101 is the late-night dining option of the One & Only The Palm. Perched over water at the furthest end of the jetty, the restaurant-bar offers stunning views of the Dubai skyline and an expansive appreciation for the Middle Eastern sunset.

The hotspot du jour is chic, hip and teeming with gorgeous statuesque types. So dress up and bling out, as this is a place to see and be seen.

I liked the selection of Spanish-centric small bites, these were yummy and great for soaking up all that alcohol imbibed during happy hour. The main ala carte menu, which primarily offers grilled seafood and meats, isn't too shabby either. The use of a josper grill definitely went a distance maximising succulence and sealing in flavours.

The Tiger Prawns (185AED = S$68) schmeared with a lively basil butter and orange paste, was wonderfully balanced and lip-smackingly good. 

The Baby Chicken (145AED = S$53), tender and juicy, was paired with an onion confit and Taggiasca olives.

From the nibbler menu, the Parmesan Arancini (35AED = S$13), oozy cheesy balls of black venere risotto was slicked with a piquillo and tarragon sauce, was highly addictive. Like Pringles, you can't stop at one.

The Croquetas a la Provencale (38AED = S$14) stuffed with chicken, tomato sauce, olives and basil, was scrumptious as well.

Another delectable appetizer was the Calamari alla Romana (38AED = S$14) deep fried to a golden crisp was sided by a creamy dijonnaise aioli and brightened with lemon.

Freshly baked crusty bread, complimentary, made for yummy fillers.

 Complimentary and refillable nibbles, green olives and spiced mixed nuts were excellent.

The picturesque restaurant, with a sprawling open-air terrace facing the Dubai skyline.

The outdoors dining area adjacent to the lounge.

101 Dining Lounge & Bar
One & Only The Palm

Shisen Hanten

Remember the original Iron Chef series? The one entirely in Japanese and dubbed over by some super animated commentator? That was one of my favourite shows growing up. I was obsessed, watching the 3 chefs, all masters in their own right, battle it out in that massively cavernous industrial kitchen against some poor overreaching sod. In just 1.5 hours, the chefs were able to create three-four masterpieces, putting their own spin on whatever "secret ingredient" theme highlighted in that episode.

One of the chefs was the ever imposing, cleaver-wielding Chen Kenichi, a Japanese-born, ethnic Chinese chef also known as Iron Chef Chinese. Affectionately called the grandfather of Sichuan cooking in Japan, he went on to set up a restaurant empire, one of which is now in Singapore, Shisen Hanten. The name itself is already a mouthful (I just realised I've been mis-pronouncing it "Shinsen Hanten"), and really, I was initially hesitant about Japanese-Sichuan cuisine. I mean, what on earth is that, right?

Turns out, the fare at Shisen Hanten is quite simply, Sichuan fare; made just a little more refined and nuanced by the quintessential Japanese exacting precision.

The extensive menu is a tad daunting, and while we loved almost everything we ordered, it wasn't a 100% hit-rate. So, my tip is to stick to the traditional stuff for a slamdunk meal.

One of our favourite starters here, the Cold Steamed Chicken ($22) seasoned with sesame and leek oil, was incredibly aromatic, and despite subtle kick of the chilli pepper spice, was clear and refreshing. This was like Hainanese chicken, but all shredded up and given a spicy twist. Absolute must try.

The other appetizer of Grilled Wagyu Beef ($30), beautifully burnished and glossed with a delicate garlicky spice blend, was sumptuous, albeit forgettable. The earlier starter really stole the limelight. 

A cannot-miss soup, the Hot & Sour Soup ($12) was exceptional, punchy and robust, but finished with an exquisite polish that I've never seen before.

Skip the Braised Corn Soup with Crabmeat ($12); it was insipid and clunky.

The Roasted Crispy Chicken ($46 for whole and promotionally half-priced on Thursday lunches) was outstanding. For once, I actually only ate the breast meat, which was wonderfully moist and flavoursome. This may seem a little trite, but the crackers were superb as well.

The Sweet & Sour Pork with Black Vinegar ($26) was a controversial dish. A galfriend thought it was "too porky", but I thought it was acceptably full-bodied. The one thing we all could agree on, was that the heady, sweetish, piquant glaze was absolutely delightful.

Another must-order, Chen's Mapo Doufu ($22) was big and bold, but restrained. I liked the complex nuance finessed into this.

The Rice Vermicelli with Crabmeat ($28) was just magnificent. The noodles were lush with stock, but managed a light elegance; and the generous pile of scallops, shitmeiji caps, freshly shredded crabmeat and egg white scramble lent texture and dimension.

The well-braised peanuts appetizer was so delectable, so soft and melty, we practically inhaled this. Also, we were starving like a marvin, so that could have been a contributory factor.

Shisen Hanten
Mandarin Orchard
Orchard Wing Level 35
333 Orchard Road
Tel: 6831 6262
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: www.shisenhanten.com.sg


Room Service at One & Only The Palm, Dubai

We were mostly cocooned in our hotel, the One & Only The Palm, when we were in Dubai over cny. We caught up on our reading, took in the beach views, and whiled our time away by the pool. Of course, there was a lot of ordering of room service to facilitate the holing up in our villa.

The room service menu looked like any other, save for the extended Middle Eastern selections. We mostly ordered those, but the one thing that stood out, was how the Dubaians cook their basmati rice. Unlike the ghee-soaked versions we get in Indian cuisine here in Singapore, the basmati rice in Dubai was amazing. It was impossibly fluffy, and while flavourful, not heavily bogged with oil. It was so so light, almost wispy, that you don't get stricken by any pangs of carb-guilt thereafter.

The Chicken Biryani (120AED = S$44), saffron and curry-flavoured basmati rice studded with succulent chicken chunks, fried shallots and nuts, was fantastic.

A must-try, the Shish Tawook (70AED = S$25) comprised a trio of marinated and grilled chicken kebabs, sided by saffron rice, beyaz salad and french fries (not pictured).

The Chicken Curry (110AED = S$40) was mild, but it was tasty enough, and it was elevated by the steamed basmati rice dotted with pineapple nubbins.

A western main course, the Roasted Baby Chicken (140AED = S$51), with paper crisp skin and luscious meat, was commendable. This was served with superb sauteed rosemary potato wedges and a pedestrian mushroom sauce.

Another must-try was the Seared Tiger Prawns (210AED = S$77), plump and juicy and beautifully charred, accompanied by grilled root vegetables and a thick lemon butter sauce.

The Seared Seabass (180AED = S$66) didn't look like much, but it was executed pretty well. Nicely crisped skin, flaky meat, this was set atop mashed potatoes, olive tapenade, lemon, and a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil

One & Only The Palm

[Invited Tasting & Revisit] Salt Tapas by Luke Mangan

Every once a while, a revisit pursuant to an invited tasting turns out much better than the tasting. We were invited by the good people of FoodNews PR to a tasting of the newly launched brunch offerings at Salt Tapas, and had a middling, choppy virgin experience at the Raffles City offshoot of the celebrity Australian chef's restaurant. We gave our feedback on the spot, and were pleasantly surprised to find, at the revisit, that the feedback was taken to heart and menu tweaked to better suit the local palate. Evidently, the invited tasting served as a testbed or soft launch of sorts. We now have a worthwhile alternative to brunch heavyweight Wild Honey.

At the tasting, the heavily touted Eggs Berendine with Bonito Flakes was a lackluster case of one-ingredient-too-many. The fishy countenance of the bonito flakes clashed with the creamy Hollandaise, and threw the whole dish off-kilter.

At the revisit, the Eggs Berendine ($14) was assembled sans bonito flakes, so while this was unexciting, it was executed flawlessly. Perfectly runny insides, velvety hollandaise spiked with a dash of paprika, a generous lashing of bacon lardons, wilted spinach, and buttery muffins all came together cohesively.

At the tasting, the Scrambled Eggs with ratatouille, sauteed zucchini and toast was a tad overcooked, resulting in eggs that were a smidge waterlogged.

The Scrambled Eggs ($15) at the revisit was much better finessed, with eggs scrambled commendably, and dressed with a mildly spicy ratatouille and zucchini ribbons.

I'm not really a fan of club sandwiches, but Salt does them admirably. The Club Sandwich was layered with a gazillion things which gelled beautifully, and the cajun fries were, in spite of our no-carb diet, addictively delicious. We finished it all, carbs be damned.

We noted, at the revisit, that the magic of the Club Sandwich ($16) was the chicken mayo: crisp, clean, clear, delicate and refreshing. The fries were a little skinnier this time round, but just as memorably awesome.

The French Toast was also recommended at the tasting, and it was an excellent one, thick and buttery and fluffy and superbly caramelised. This was good on its own, and even more outstanding topped with Okinawa ice-cream, clotted cream and jam.

At the revisit, the French Toast ($15) was just as scrumptious. The brioche, dunked in a thin eggy coat and fried, was already stellar, and when paired with Okinawa ice-cream, clotted cream, jam and a sprinkle of icing sugar, just glorious.

Salt Tapas & Bar by Luke Mangan
252 North Bridge Road
Raffles City Shopping Centre #01-22A
Tel: 6837 0995
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 10pm;
Saturdays from 11.30am to 10.30pm;
Sundays from 11.30am to 9.30pm


Stay by Yannick Alleno, Dubai

I'm gonna take a break from my NZ travelogue to get through the backlog of short-haul travel posts.

We were in Dubai over the CNY long weekend. Why Dubai, as many have asked? Well, we wanted a place that'll be open through the Chinese New Year, and Dubai, arguably the hub of the Middle East, is as far removed from any Lunar New Year festivities as it gets.

Besides, I've always wanted to see what Dubai was like, and how the Arabs "manufactured" a city, just as our forefathers "manufactured" Singapore into a "legoland" of sorts. I figured the long weekend would suffice as a short-but-deep-enough look-see trip to the bustling metropolis.

We stayed at the One & Only the Palm, one of my favourite hotel chains for its consistent standard of luxury.

The hotel's restaurants are all curated by 3-Michelin starred chef Yannick Alleno, the premier, and most distinguished, of which is Stay by Yannick Alleno. The quintessentially French restaurant is all class and sophistication, but cosy and relaxed due to the use of romantic low-lights and warm service.

The food was sublime, even if it was a smidge vanilla and somewhat tame. Prices may be a little on the high side, but then again, which restaurant in Dubai isn't? At least Stay by Yannick Alleno piled us generously with complimentary bits and blobs, so even though we originally planned to get a full 4-course meal, we ended up being satiated with just 2 appetizers and 2 mains. 

We started off a trio of Amuse Bouche: a Comte Puff; Truffle Mushroom Tart, and Chilled Lobster Salad on a squid ink crisp. A most outstanding way to kick off dinner, which left us hankering for more.

The parsley-free rendition of the standard Amuse Bouche replaced the lobster salad with a slab of stellar Smoked Salmon.

The bread basket which was pure perfection (you can always trust the French to make good bread), accompanied simply by good ol' French butter.

A must-try appetizer was the Slow Cooked Organic Egg (55AED = S$20) drenched in the most luxurious comte foam, and dotted with juicy girolle mushrooms, was intensely flavourful, rich from the cheese and earthy fungi. This was just sensational.

We'd just watched Burnt (the food porn movie with the dreamy, French-speaking Bradley Cooper) which heavily featured turbot, so when we saw said fish on the menu, we immediately ordered it. The Wild Devon Turbot (240AED = S$88) was braised with shellfish jus for oomph, set atop steamed baby vegetables and slathered in a dijonnaise sauce. Really lovely subtle and layered flavours.

The Slow Cooked Black Angus Beef Short Ribs (200AED = S$73) was a carnivore's dream, sumptuous and meltingly tender. The full-bodied heft of the meat was complemented by fried shallot ringlets, and the most gossamer whipped potato mash ever.

Complimentary petit fours which posed a conundrum: Passionfruit Choux; Starfruit Coconut Jelly; Coffee Chocolate: these were too pretty to eat, but too delicious not to

Ditto for the platter of sweets that followed shortly: pistachio chocolate, meringue, gold-dusted chocolate truffles, and chocolate wafers. So scrumptious we forgot about dessert entirely.

Restaurant indoors


Stay by Yannick Alleno
One & Only The Palm
United Arab Emirates

Chili's, Clarke Quay The Central

Chili's is one of my favourite places for Tex-Mex cuisine. And ribs! It may be considered peasant food or cheapo diner fare in the US, but here, in this part of Southeast Asia, the lipsmackingly good ribs are one of the best around.

We regularly hit up the original branch at Tanglin Mall, but we thought we'd dine at its sister outlet at The Central, so we can pop by Meidi-Ya at Liang Court thereafter for groceries.

The customer demographic between the Tanglin Mall and Clarke Quay outposts is immediately apparent; the former an expat enclave, and the latter more local-centric. Service also differs, the Tanglin Mall one being better staffed, with more efficient service, whereas the staff at Clarke Quay were a little more frazzled and bumbling. Food, too, was a little lackluster at Clarke Quay compared to the commendable grub at Tanglin Mall. Clearly, the standards between the branches are inconsistent; methinks I'll stick to the Tanglin Mall branch from now on.

The Beef Chili ($12.50), done Texan-style, with beef mince slow-cooked with onions, chili, and peppers, was topped with sour cream, mixed cheese, and tostada chips. This was a little charred compared to the ones at Tanglin Mall, like someone left it on the burner a tad too long. Still a decent starter nonetheless.

The Chicken Enchilada Soup ($9.90) was subtly spiced, swirled with cheese, and served alongside chips. This was lovely, if a bit stingy on the chicken chunks.

Ditto for the Bacon Ranch Quesadillas ($24.90) of flour tortillas stuffed with grilled chicken breast, smoked bacon, mixed cheese, ranch dressing, sided by citrus-chile rice, black beans, sour cream, pico de gallo. These were a little anaemic, and less generous with the fillings than at Tanglin Mall.

The Mango Chile Chicken ($19.90), chicken breast seasoned in 6-pepper blend, grilled, and drizzled with spicy habanero mango glaze, topped with cilantro-mangoes, house-made pico de gallo, diced avocados, and sided by citrus-chili rice and steamed broccoli was wholesome, healthy, and delicious. The chicken was very nicely done, moist, flavourful and tender.

The Grilled Chicken Fajitas ($27.90) with sliced bell peppers, caramelised onions, chipotle-garlic butter, warm tortillas, mixed cheese, fresh guacamole, pickled onion and jalapeno relish, cumin-lime sour cream, pico de gallo, salsa, was one of the highlights. Succulent chicken, thoroughly marinated, and imbued with an aromatic smoky accent.

The Classic BBQ Baby Back Ribs ($40.90 for full rack) was outstanding as usual, hearty, flavoursome to the bone, fantastically burnished, with meat that was so tender it was practically fall-off-the-bone. This was served with excellent homestyle fries and a disappointingly dry skillet macaroni & cheese.

#01-18 The Central
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
Tel: 6225 1687
Open Sundays to Tuesdays from 11.30am to 10pm;
Wednesdays to Thursdays from 11.30am to 11pm;
Fridays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 12midnight
Website: chilis.sg
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